Commercializing rest areas in Arizona would bring more harm than good to the state’s local businesses and communities, according to Michael Bowlin, President of Bowlin Travel Centers.
“My grandfather used to say ‘not all money is good money,’ Bowlin wrote in a recent letter to the Sierra Vista Herald. “Such is the case with commercial rest areas, which would devastate Arizona’s local businesses.”
Responding to an editorial in the Sierra Vista Herald, Bowlin said that his business and others operating at the interstate exits would suffer a dramatic drop in sales and subsequently a corresponding drop in employees and tax receipts if the state is allowed to commercialize rest areas directly on the Interstate Highway System.
Arizona Gov. Ducey in early November petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to allow the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to operate commercial rest areas under a pilot program, a move that threatens the truckstop and travel plaza industry as well as other businesses operating near Interstate exits.
Current federal law prohibits rest areas built after 1960 from offering food, fuel or other commercial services. The federal law was put into place to spur economic development in the towns and communities developing near the IHS. Today, thousands of businesses operate near America’s Interstates, including truckstops, convenience stores, gas stations, hotels and restaurants, serving the needs of motorists.
Bowlin said Bowlin Travel Centers and other highway operators have invested millions in their businesses, including money for clean restrooms, food offerings, retail facilities, safe overnight parking, fuel and other key amenities in support of highway traffic. The vast majority of the tax revenues generated stay in the local county or city where the facility resides.
If Gov. Ducey and AZDOT commercialize state rest areas, he wrote, most likely a national company outside of Arizona would be awarded the contract to operate the facility. The commercialized rest areas would be leased from the state and tax revenues would shift to state coffers instead.
NATSO in November criticized Arizona for seeking to sidestep a federal law that has been debated and reaffirmed in Congress many times and seeking to allow the state to compete with small-town businesses, siphoning jobs, customers and local tax revenues.
NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mulling in a statement urged U.S. DOT to reject Arizona’s petition because rest area commercialization threatens thousands of businesses serving travelers at the interstate exits, risking the livelihood of hundreds of Arizona business owners and their employees as well as local communities that depend on the property taxes these businesses pay to fund schools and police.
Mullings said one provision of federal law that Gov. Ducey called ‘nonsensical’ empowers the blind community in the United States because blind-owned businesses currently receive priority for Interstate rest area vending opportunities.
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